Dr. Pieter Cohen of Cambridge Health Alliance and the Harvard Medical School said physicians need to be made aware of the range of serious side effects of these drugs so they can identify and treat patients with unexplained symptoms.
Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has banned the majority of amphetamine-based appetite suppressants, many are still prescribed in other parts of the world, including South America, Cohen explained.
Most physicians in the United States are unaware of the existence of these diet pills combining fenproporex and benzodiazepines, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, diuretics, laxatives, thyroid hormones and other substances, Cohen said.
Cohen reviewed two case reports of patients taking appetite suppressants containing fenproporex. A 26-year-old woman suffered from intermittent chest pains, palpitations, headaches and insomnia for two years. Her urine tested positive for amphetamines and benzodiazepines, and both fenproporex and chlordiazepoxide were present in her pills. Her symptoms disappeared after she stopped taking the imported pills.
In a second case, a 38-year-old man was suspended from work after testing positive for amphetamines. He didn't realize his imported diet pills contained fenproporex and fluoxetine.
The findings are published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.